Artists Respond to Hate

The last several months have been tough ones for peace and tolerance in America. Hate is on the rise. During the 10 days immediately after November 8, the Southern Poverty Law Center—which monitors hate and extremist groups across the country—tracked 867 non-online hate incidents. These hate incidents happened on streets, in stores, and at workplaces. They happened at people’s homes and places of worship. And most commonly—nearly 40 percent of the time—they happened at schools or universities.

Artists around the world have been wrestling with their own responses to the hate.

  • San Antonio painter Vincent Valdez has worked for years on projects that call out the scariest, most violent aspects of race hatred—while challenging himself to recognize what is individual and human in his subject matter. A recent large-scale painting attempts to depict robed KKK members on a human level.
  • Maeril, an illustrator currently living in Paris, has created a step-by-step guide for bystanders—in comic form—explaining how to safely assist victims of Islamophobic harassment. In engaging with the victim rather than the harasser, and by gradually widening the safe space of engagement, Maeril’s approach links empathy and safety. While confronting harassment is no doubt harrowing in any form, Maeril’s approach suggests that at its core, such action is within the reach of anyone who is capable of being friendly and talking about the weather.
  • Painter Glenn Ligon and poet Claudia Rankine are working to create what Rankine calls The Racial Imaginary Institute. The institute, to be funded by Rankine’s MacArthur Fellowship award, will examine ways in which race “informs the imagination.” The work was inspired by the difficulty Rankine had in finding material that examined the construction of whiteness in culture. “We have allowed whiteness to hold onto universality without questioning how it’s constructed,” she said. “We continue to buy into our own collusion.”
  • Comics publishers IDW and DC Comics partnered with writers and artists to create a graphic anthology, Love is Love, which commemorates the lives lost in the Orlando nightclub shooting earlier this year. All proceeds from the book go toward Equality Florida’s fund for victims and survivors of the shooting.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, sign painter Olivia Trimble learned of hateful graffiti that had appeared on a boarded up hospital. She quickly painted over it with her own, more positive message and posted the result on Facebook. Trimble has started a group, Repaint Hate, that aims to do the same wherever such graffiti appears. Her story was picked up by Mic Media, which posted a video about her efforts.
  • “WOMEN: New Portraits” is the latest installment in Annie Leibovitz’s series of women-focused photographs. The new series has just been exhibited inside The Women’s Building, a converted women’s correctional facility in Manhattan. Speaking at the exhibit opening, feminist Gloria Steinem, a friend of Leibovitz, said the heart of the exhibit is the opportunity to foster dialogue and empathy. “We are at a time of maximum danger in this country, and we need to look after each other and see the true diversity of human beings, male and female,” Steinem said. “But it is also true that, just as we would not tell anyone to go back into a violent household, we will not tell each other to go back. And even though it’s a time of danger, maybe we are about to be free.”

The voice of art has many registers: practical dialogue, wrenching empathy, anguished wail. Another register is hope: In late November, artist Sam Durant’s lighted sign “End White Supremacy” was raised once again above the Paula Cooper gallery in New York City. The sign last hung there during the 2008 presidential campaign; it was removed shortly after President Obama’s first inauguration.

None of us need be silent in the face of hate. This year, let us find ways to combine our voices, our talents, and our respect for one another—in order to make our community whole.


Photo by torbakhopper via Flickr.

Posted in: Art


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